Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ring of Fire: I Rode Luckenbach!

The morning arrived too early, as always. I didn’t have the usual race day jitters as on this sticky Saturday, I planned to just ride, not race, the hills of Luckenbach and the surrounding areas. I felt prepared for the 40 or so miles of rolling hills but I was mildly concerned about the heat. I’ve learned my lesson about hydration this year and took the time to drink plenty of water and nuun in the days leading up to the ride. I was already slathered in sunscreen when I got into my car at 5:15 am and would reapply just before ride time.

I arrived at Luckenbach in plenty of time- despite a few missed turns and improvised paths. I’m not at my best until 7 or 7:30. Luckenbach isn’t so much a town as a collection of buildings- a dance hall, a bar, and a barn. It has a very Western feel. In fact, scratch that- Luckenbach IS Western. It feels like any minute a trio of cowboys will come loping into town on snorting horses, tie their mounts to the tie post and order three fingers of whiskey at the bar. But instead of dusty faced cowhands, today Luckenbach was filled with brightly colored bike jerseys, two wheeled steeds and water bottles filled with nuun, pure sport and other sports drinks.

Red Licorice Events Brand Ambassador Buffy Weaver and I decided to ride the 40 miler together. Michelle and Terri were also riding the 40- but they set a pace that I was not eager to match. After all, I was simply riding! We rolled out and started on the first part of the course- a lovely little 12 mile loop though the hill country. It was most flat-ish with a couple of short but steep hills. With shady vistas and pastures of goats and cows, I was definitely in a happy place.

I rolled up to the first rest stop managed by AJ’s Cyclery and got a big hug from Tough Cookie and Team Survivor Leticia Olivarez. I downed a couple of Nutter Butters- my favorite, then pedaled on to the next part of the course- a tough out and back. I don’t know if I like out and back or not. In one sense it’s good because you know what the return ride will be like. On the other hand, it’s bad because you know what the return ride will be like! Every hill I flew down made me grimace because I know that on this course, what goes down must come up. One downhill in particular made me wince. I’m normally all for downhills, but as I descended and descended for what seemed like ten minutes I knew this would become my white whale of the race.

The next rest stop was Eli Cohen’s REI Meet Rack and home of my birthday cake! Eli brought a cake for me and his coworker Sarah. I regret that I couldn’t eat more than 2-3 bites but I didn’t want anything that was not essential in my tummy. Pretty soon we began to see some of the other riders heading back our way. These would be the fast 40 milers and the 110/65 milers headed home. They were cruising! Michelle Lopez blasted past us looking strong as ever. What an athlete!

After some merriment and photo ops, we continued along. The sun decided to stay behind the clouds for most of the ride and a pleasant cross wind kept me comfortable. I was sweating heavily but never overheated or felt unduly hot. The hills rolled under my wheels as I passed by more farms and fields and groves of trees. The next stop was hosted by the Ronald McDonald House. I gratefully accepted an icy cold towel from an insistent little girl. I did not need to be asked twice, but she did because I wasn’t fast enough!

Then- it was time to go back. Now, it seemed as though the majority of the hills would be in my favor on the way back- many more downhills than uphills. Except the one. That one. I rode along, trying to remember which hill it was but when we came to the base, there was no mistaking it. Holy cow! That was a long hill. More than a mile of up. So I popped Skippy into an easy gear, looked about 5 feet ahead of my front wheel and dug in.

When I go uphill, I usually like to get a mantra going, or a peppy song of some kind. Sometimes it’s Metallica, sometimes it’s Beastie Boys, sometimes it’s Tool. Today, it was John Denver. For real. WTF? The ONLY song I could get my head to play was “Sunshine on My Shoulders”. Yeah, you know it- you just don’t know that you know it. Here’s a listen.
Yeah. Rock on.

But John somehow crooned me up that hill- I even got some props from a rider who said I inspired him to get up that monster. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was really because of a bespectacled folk singer with a bowl cut.

I felt incredibly satisfied with myself after that hill and although I knew the worst was over, the course taunted me with several more short steep hills. With quads rapidly turning to jello, I finally pulled into Luckenbach and finished the ride. A sweaty, satisfying 45 mile ride that I cannot wait to challenge myself with next year! Perhaps if I bump up to the 65 miler next year, the Carpenters will serenade me.


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